Ironically, as the country begins to abandon the standard fire department physical entry level physical or CPAT (Candidate Physical Abilities Test), the New York City Fire Department has recently adapted a classic CPAT. This represents major a break from previous hiring procedures, largely in that it uses a pass/fail marking system. To pass any CPAT, click here.
A graded exam (versus pass/fail) affects list number placement and ensures the most physically capable staff, while a pass/fail system can allow mediocrity to become the norm. New York is a big city, and the FDNY can hire one thousand each year. As an expert on firefighter fitness, I feel this is a major step in the opposite direction, as units in the field must now rely heavily on the prestigious FDNY Training Academy to produce the type of probie it has taken for granted in the past.
I've heard the question a dozen times, from chief and company officers from around the country who've found themselves in charge of a firefighter training academy: "How does the FDNY produce such great recruits, and why do we have so much trouble with our probationary firefighters?"
I answer their question with a question: "Is your entrance physical graded or pass/fail?" But I already know the answer. Raise entry level standards to produce a more-capable probie, both academically and physically. One of the best ways to raise physical standards is to give an abilities test that's graded.
In the Big Apple, training has now become even more important. No longer will the FDNY field units have the luxury of having one super-fit probie after the next show up at their door step. It's up to the training academy, which will be lengthened to six months to acclimate the less-capable recruit, to transform each individual into a professional and physically prepared firefighter.
If you aspire to become a career firefighter and have plans to test in the near future, don't stop at the CPAT. Continue training with a sensible program that includes a long range plan which carries you through the academy and well beyond. With physical standards dropping in the largest department on earth, it's now up to the individual to get serious about his or her own current physical condition and ability to perform under extreme pressure.
CPAT Prep: Start-up Workout
In order to pass the typical 10 minute and 20 second CPAT, it's most important to develop both strength AND endurance. Strength-endurance is a relatively new concept that's been circulating through the functional fitness arena. Think of strength-endurance as strength that endures. Pure cardio routines that feature endless running will not help you climb multiple flights of stairs with 75 pounds on your back. Nor will setting a personal best record on your bench press.
The best way to first tap into this elusive quality is with a simple combination approach, utilizing movement strategies that continually vary the demand placed on all your muscles and cardiovascular system. Don't confuse this will isolated high-rep exercises (IE: Bicep Curl) designed to hyper-trophate muscle as its sole purpose.
Later, once a certain level of expertise and conditioning takes place, these movements can actually be integrated with mock-test events (example: vested stepping for the typical step mill test) with supersets (alternating between sets of each exercise with little, if any rest).
Strength/Endurance Combination Exercise # 1
The Squat / Overhead Press (one arm or two arm)
Remember, we're not trying to beat a world record here. Grab a pair of light dumbbells to get started. Kettlebells, my personal favorite, make an even better choice. Most of us don't know how to bring a dumbbell to shoulder level without arching the back and leaning under the weight (as in a "cheat curl"). Don't do that. Instead, follow the below instructions, which can be done as one or two arm variations, all else remains the same. (see photo above)